Ben Breard | Afterimage Gallery

Last week I had a nice chat with Ben Breard, of Afterimage Gallery at his new location in uptown. This place is a legend for photo lovers in Dallas and beyond. Ben's story is so interesting and what he has achieved quite remarkable. Here's the transcript:

You have been in business for 45 years! This has to be some record, as far as dedicated photography galleries…

Yeah, we could be the oldest in the world. There are some dealers that have been around a couple of years longer, but they have gone into private dealing and don’t have the same kind of gallery…

What’s your secret?

Just being hard headed, and I don’t like change (laughter)…

Just sticking with it!

In retail you got to stay in one place. Same city…you got to keep regular hours and that is not for everybody. I am comfortable with that. I like my routines.

How did you start?

Photography was a hobby. In college I photographed for the yearbook. My undergraduate degree was in journalism. So I said, “Aha! Photo-journalism!” But, compared to the other classmates in graduate school, I really was not all that good -- not that talented or creative. So I thought, well, maybe I can sell photographs…

Now that’s an art…

I mean [to sell photographs] of people who are talented (laughs). That’s how I got started. There was a gallery at the time in New York, the Witkin Gallery. I visited them, got some of their ideas and went from there. The bins on the walls, for example, that’s an idea from Witkin.

I love those, browsing through the images…it feels a little bit like the old record stores. Of course larger and nicer…

Yeap…

Was it hard to start?

No, because rent was cheap ($250 a month!). Everything was consigned. And I was single. I did not need to make much money.

Did you start in this [uptown] area?

Yes, in the Quadrangle.

So you were in the Quadrangle for over 40 years then…

Yeah, 45 actually. I just moved here in May.

I did not realize that building is 45 years old…

It’s older than that actually.

Wow, it looks newer. Maybe because of the modern style?

Yeah, and it has been updated, too.

Digital technology changing things. I read that 1.8 billion images are shared online daily…how does that impact the business of a photography gallery?

Well, when you think about it, what people see is the finished product on the wall. Lots of this work was shot digitally and some not. It does not really matter that much to the buyer. They just want something that looks good. Sometimes a collector might balk at a digital print. But if you want to buy somebody and all they are doing are digital prints you don’t have a lot of choice. I don’t have a problem with it.

So the flow has continued?

Yeah.

I imagine you have a pretty faithful clientele after 45 years. Who is your typical client?

It has changed over the years. Probably 30 to 65 years old and affluent. But, there are always exceptions. There are people who don’t have much money and pay things out over a long period of time, in contrast with “gazillionaires” who just decide to buy a $100,000 picture.

You understand the art side of photography and also the business side. I imagine that in balancing the two sometimes you have to make some compromises, decisions…

Yeah. There may be an individual who does landscape work that is more sellable, but he has better work such as people on the street, but nobody will want that work, no one really wants to buy it. So it is really frustrating. I can’t always show what I would like because I need to have some commercial value in mind. A lot of photographers don’t have anything of commercial value, or mostly personal work. I tell them to show at a non-profit space, or to print a book. For example, I have here a list of prints from a collector in New York. I need to look to see what I think I could sell. Some of them wouldn’t have a chance here. I have to just reject it. And then there are pricing issues. I got to go through it and try to get reasonable prices that people will pay! Sometimes people ask too much. There are also technical considerations. Is it too much work to show it on my website? Most of my business is online. I have to consider the amount of work to present the photographs versus the profit. Is it worth it?

What makes a photograph valuable?

Supply and demand. If the guy is famous and there are not many of them [prints], then it is valuable.

You have some seriously famous photographers in your collection, right? Like Bresson…

Ansel Adams…in fact I am working with another person who has four Ansel Adams prints. Those will be nice. The person, as it is often the case, is out of state. I will sell the items to somebody and people here will never get to see it.

As far as the lesser know names, what makes a photograph valuable in the eyes of a gallery?

The lesser known names are not necessarily investments. You never know. So I just go with the strength of the work. That has value -- the creativity, the talent of the photographer. I show a lot of lesser known people.

Clients will buy just because they are attracted to the work, not necessarily as an investment?

Yes. It’s hard, because often times collectors only want the “name people”. The kind of collectors I like collect everybody. Some of the largest and most valuable photo collections in the country were made by people who would buy the big names and also buy from photographers selling on the street -- all kinds of stuff. They just like photography!

They curate their own collection. Speaking of, do you have your personal collection?

Yes. A lot of it consists of pieces that, say, the photographer gave to me because I sold a bunch of his work. Also, I got a lot of things at good prices, years ago.

Do you keep them at home?

Yes, they are hanging on the walls.

Do you see any up and coming photographers that you like?

A guy I push a lot is Michael Massaia, out of New Jersey. He has a book coming out.  I don’t care how old they are. I just look at the work.

I imagine that after being in business for 45 years you have seen people come and go, you have seen trends that people thought were so cool then and now they are no longer cool.  What do you think remains?

Ah, that’s a hard question. Some of the things that were so popular earlier you don’t see much anymore…I think people are looking for quality of image. A term that was coined by an early dealer was “object quality.” But not even that applies.  Sometimes you can have a really trendy photographer, for example the Starn twins. They would make collages using scotch tape, completely non-archival. So quality is not necessarily a virtue. It’s hard to say what has lasted over the years. There are some classic photographers that have fallen out of favor, people don’t collect them as much.

What excites you about the future? When you look at the next five years, what excites you?

I am excited about the new space, for one thing. The trends in photography in this digital era (as he points at his phone), the capability of producing large prints and stuff. Who knows what will be the future…holograms on the wall. Of course we already had that…Computers and the internet will play a big part of it, I am sure.

Do you sell stuff online?

Yes. Probably 60% of what I have. I got online in 1997. It took months to put the website together. I got an email from a doctor in Perth Australia saying, “ I want this, this and this, and here’s my American Express card and here’s my Fedex.” And I said, “hummm, there’s something nice about this online deal…”

Any last words of wisdom or advice for young photographers?

The main thing young photographers got to know is that they need to shoot all the time, work hard at it. So many people come in here while they are in college and they have been working for a year. They don’t understand the cost, the time involved. Or they won’t have a style. Their photographs are all over the place. They need to just develop a style, work harder at it.

Put in the 10,000 hours…

Yes. Some people are naturally talented. It’s amazing. They can produce a strong body of work in just a few years. But those individuals are few and far between.

Like Francesca Woodman, who produced all her work in her teens...When I used to teach photography at Parish I used to have some students like that…

Yeah.

Thanks again Ben for the time and valuable information and best wishes on your new space.

AFTERIMAGE GALLERY, Inc.

2613B Fairmount Street
Dallas, TX 75201

Phone: (214) 871-9140
Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday-Saturday

afterimage.com

 

 

Juliette McCullough

Juliette McCullough was born and grew up in England where she received her education which culminated in her post graduate study at The Royal Academy of Arts London. She has exhibited extensively in Britain, and the U.S.A., as well as in Italy and Japan. Her work is in corporate and private collections on both sides of the Atlantic. At the end of her graduate studies in London she was singled out by having one of her paintings bought by Francis Bacon!

I am inspired by Juliette's incredible mind and breathtaking art work. I caught up with her at her home studio in North Dallas:

dallas-artist-portrait

How did you get into art?

Making images was always part of my life from my earliest memories. As I grew up my imagery grew with me; it was a way of learning about and understanding the world and myself, so studying it in adulthood was just a natural progression

When did you know that you would pursue art as your career?

Looking back, I thought of it more as the choice of a way of life rather than career. My thinking was all process and not product.  While I made the first decision in my early teenage years, the real choice did not come until I faced absolute total failure of my artistic development later in my undergraduate experience. On an artistic level I had to hit rock bottom, it was only then, through that experience, that I found that the process of discovering and creating through making imagery was more important to me than any outcome, that it was a necessary way of life for me.

How does your Jungian practice inform your art?

 This is a difficult question, because I don’t think that reading and studying Jungian ideas does have a direct link to my art, and yet, my reading about Jungian ideas has been central to my understanding of my processes and the drives behind the need to make images.

  When I paint or draw, especially from memory or imagination, there is an opening up of that less conscious part of myself – a deliberate dropping off of all inner controls and censoring – very much like observing oneself dream while being awake. Working like this, on an intuitive level, I become aware of the energies and instinctual drives which are being channeled through the image, and I believe that it is precisely these energies which connect us all on a less conscious level. As a consequence, that inner, most private experience of manipulating the paint becomes a sort of bridge for me to our much larger human community, even maybe the collective unconscious; it helps me understand our profound connectedness in spite of our superficial experiences of separation.

How do you think the masculine/feminine affect your definition of art?

I hope that any definition I might have of art is always changing and growing. However, my feminine journey through this life is the only stand point I have from which to understand my experiences, but I am fascinated by everything we are, and every duality which creates us.

But, the intrinsic nature of my own feminine standpoint was bought home to me recently through a conversation I had with a fellow artist, a very accomplished and gifted guy. We were discussing what makes an art work ‘work’, that is, ‘communicate’ on the deepest level. I said that I thought it works when it becomes a ‘container’ for the ‘projections’ of the viewer, that is, on some level, the viewer experiences something of their own reality through the image. He said that he believed on the contrary, that the art work ‘acted’ on the viewer to ‘instigate’ or ‘initiate’ new awareness ( I am paraphrasing his words here.) After our discussion I realized that we were clearly saying something similar, but it was coming out of our different masculine and feminine experience. My ‘container’ would possibly be considered a more feminine symbol, whereas the idea of ‘initiate’ or ‘instigate’ is active and more masculine. Vivre la difference!

You have lived and practiced on “both sides of the Atlantic” - do you feel this is reflected in your art?

I think that the difficulties and pressures of changing countries and cultures, having to re-shape ones-self to adapt to changing situations causes one to focus more on the big things in life, and this probably has an effect. I also noticed that my whole color range intuitively changes according to the light where ever I’m living, it certainly changed when moving from the UK to Texas. I become my environment as I move through it, it has to leave a lasting effect.

You are also a very accomplished and recognized art teacher. How do you think your teaching and art practice influence each other?

I am on the same journey as any of my students, as individuals we are each somewhere on that train track through our own artistic development, no matter where that is. My journey isn’t an easy one, so I take pleasure in offering my own experience to help others to move forward where it can be helpful. Working with others is always a reciprocal experience. Like many art teachers I also came to the realization that we always teach that which we most need to learn ourselves! Outer and inner worlds are always connecting and reverberating within each other. For me, the communication of teaching is the work in the outer world, and wrestling with my own personal imagery, working with the inner world. I am only interested in painting people and the human condition, so all my interactions are food to me; to be able to work with other people and share something of the development of their unique ideas and creativity is an added gift.

 How do you keep yourself motivated and energized to create?

The drive is always there to a lesser or greater extent. Life itself is the motivation, everything that presents itself is grist to the mill. Everything that generates energy for me, whether positive or negative. I do it because I need to do it for myself, not for any commercial reason. As long as I am breathing, I expect that there will still be the burning need to express what can’t be said in words.

What do you look forward to?

Continuing to ‘dance the dance!’ I hope to dance literally and figuratively through the next stage of my creative adventure, in spite of, and because of, everything that will present itself!


You can view Juliette's work and contact her through her site:

www.juliettemccullough.com